As another season passes and summer comes to a close, I am looking forward to the crispness that fall brings. Not the crisp in the air so much, but the crisp taste of fresh apple cider and the crisp sound of fallen leaves. Growing up in the Midwest, with its very distinct seasons, you find what you love best about each one so as they approach you are less sad to see the last fade away. When I was a young child, there was no better time to drink crisp cider and admire the fallen leaves than Halloween night.
Upon my arrival into this world, my parents were told to, “Take her home and treat her like anyone else.” And to their credit, my parents were so good at following this instruction that I didn’t know that I was different for several years. But I do remember thinking on Halloween each year, when I was dressed in costume from head to toe, that my neighbors all greeted me by name as soon as they opened the door, “Hi, Michele!” I noticed it, but the sugary treats I was about to enjoy would push it from the front of my mind to the back.
The fact that I looked different didn’t fully materialize in my self-image until I began school, at the age of five. You can read all about my first day of school in my upcoming book, Looking Up. It is an interesting tale to be sure, but what was more profound that day was that when I confronted my mother with this new self-image revelation that she had done her best to shield me from, she said to me, “Because the truth is, we all have our differences, honey. Some are just more obvious than others.”
What my peers initially saw and labeled as my difference was that I was short. However, as time progressed, that label changed from ‘short’ to ‘smart’. I was a whip at math, and I reveled in showing off my skills in the classroom. But even as my labels changed, they couldn’t quite tell the story of who I was as a person. I was still more than short and still more than smart.
It is human nature to label those around us, to walk into a room and assign a ‘least common denominator’ to each person (the tall one, the old one, the fashionable one). It is often how we describe them when talking about the event later, “Did you see the young guy taking notes with an actual pen and paper?” And your colleague, who didn’t notice the lack of an iPad or laptop, would still
know who you were referring to thanks to likely giving the ‘young guy’ the same label. What was likely missed, though, was the opportunity to form a more complete profile of the ‘young guy’ by seeking out more than that initial label. We begin to grow when we learn to see beyond the labels. Should you introduce yourself to the young guy, you may find that he is wise beyond his years and adds immense value to the goal of your project.
Seeing beyond labels is a learned skill, and for me it began by first accepting my own. After I accepted them, I grew confidence around them, and ultimately, I understood the advantages that they brought to me. From a young age, I was faced with the realization that I would no longer grow in the traditional sense. At the age of ten, I stopped my journey with physical growth at four feet tall. Fortunately for me, this afforded the opportunity to focus more of my lifespan to grow in other ways: mentally, emotionally, empathetically. What an advantage.
As we begin to embrace the crispness of fall and look forward to the fun of masked children at our doorstep asking for treats, it also begins to beckon the close of 2019. What a year it has been, and I am sure there are still adventures to come before it ends. I am not one to ever wish away time, but I must admit that I am anxious for 2020. I cannot wait for my book, Looking Up, to hit shelves and to hopefully hit the hearts and minds of others. The title of this blog, “Two Kinds of Growth,” shares the name of chapter one of Looking Up, and truly sets the tone for my message.
I hope that you have a lovely fall season, filled with spiced drinks, carved pumpkins, and dear friends and family. All my best!